Disability Benefits for Amputations

A single amputation of a leg below the knee doesn't guarantee disability benefits. Here's what types of amputations do qualify.

By , Attorney Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 6/24/2024

Amputation is the loss of an arm, leg, hand, or foot. Leg amputations most often are done surgically, and usually because of complications from diabetes or atherosclerosis, but traumatic accidents can also cause the loss of a limb. Amputation of a hand or arm is often the result of an industrial accident. If an amputation makes a person unable to work, the amputee might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits—under certain circumstances.

The fact that you have had a body part amputated doesn't automatically qualify you for disability benefits. The only exceptions to this rule are if you have had both hands amputated, a leg amputated up through the hip joint ("hip disarticulation"), or a pelvic amputation ("hemipelvectomy").

For all other amputations, there are additional requirements that you need to meet in order to be found disabled. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists the few circumstances where you can automatically qualify for benefits in its Listings of Impairments. Amputations are considered under listing 1.20.

If you don't meet the official listing, you can still be found disabled if you are able to prove that your amputation makes it impossible for you to work.

Official Listing Requirements for Amputations

To "meet" (qualify under) the SSA's medical listing for amputations, you must have suffered one of the following:

  • amputation of both hands
  • hemipelvectomy
  • hip disarticulation
  • amputation of one or both legs, with stump complications making you unable to use a prosthetic device and requiring you to use a two-handed walking device (such as a walker, bilateral canes/crutches, or a two-handed wheelchair), or
  • amputation of one hand and one leg requiring you to use a one-handed walking device with the remaining hand (or otherwise being unable to use the remaining hand for work-related activities) or to use a two-handed walking device.

To qualify under the listing for the last two types of amputations where you need an assistive device to walk, you must have a prescription from your doctor that shows you need the device for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits By Reduced Functional Capacity

Most amputees won't qualify under the above impairment listing—for instance, these applicants wouldn't meet the official Social Security listing:

  • a person with a below-the-knee amputation (BK amputation, or BKA) who can use a prosthetic device to walk, or
  • a person who lost one arm below the elbow.

But you might be able to qualify for disability benefits if your amputation has reduced your "functional capacity" to such an extent that there is no work you can do, given your age, education, and experience.

The SSA will give you a rating of the type of work it thinks you can do (sedentary work, light work, medium work, or heavy work) based on all of your symptoms and limitations, including any doctors' restrictions (such as no lifting more than ten pounds or no crawling, kneeling, or working at unprotected heights). The type of work you can do forms the basis of your "residual functional capacity" (RFC). If the SSA determines there are no jobs you can be expected to do with your RFC, there's a chance you could qualify for disability benefits under what's called a "medical-vocational allowance."

Here are some examples of the level of work the SSA might assign you to:

  • If your amputation was above the knee and you're using a prosthetic device to walk but you have difficulty, you should be able to get a sedentary RFC.
  • If your amputation was below the knee and you're able to use a prosthetic device effectively, you might receive a light or medium RFC.
  • If you can't stand or walk for six to eight hours per day, you should receive a sedentary RFC.

The lower the RFC, the fewer jobs you can do. And your chances of getting disability through a medical-vocational allowance are higher if you're over 50.

For instance, if you have a sedentary RFC, you're likely to be considered disabled if you're over 50, have a high school education, and have limited job skills. But if you're younger than 50 and literate, the SSA will assume that you can learn a new job that's doable with your physical limitations. For more information, see Nolo's article on how Social Security decides disability based on your abilities and limitations.

Medical Evidence Required

The SSA will request your medical records from your treating doctor. Your records should include documentation of your amputation, your ability to use a prosthetic device, and your ability to walk, bend, squat and rise.

Your doctor should also address the likelihood that your functional limitations will improve or whether your condition is likely to stay the same. To get Social Security disability benefits, your disability must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve months. If your amputation was recent, and the SSA believes you will be able to walk fairly well within 12 months, the agency will deny you benefits.

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits due to Amputation

You can apply by phone or online whether you're applying for SSI (for applicants with low-income) or SSDI (for workers who have paid taxes over many years). Calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or go online to www.ssa.gov. To complete the disability application, you'll need the contact information and dates of treatment for all of your medical providers, the dates of any medical tests, and the names, addresses, and dates of employment for all of your employers in the last five years.

For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Presumptive Disability Benefits

When you apply for SSI disability benefits, you might be able to get immediate cash payments if you have had one of the following:

  • amputation of two limbs, or
  • amputation of a leg at the hip.

This is called "presumptive disability"—the SSA assumes that your condition will qualify for disability benefits, so it starts paying them right away. The SSA will pay benefits until your claim is approved or denied, for a maximum of six months. If your claim is ultimately denied, you don't have to repay the presumptive disability benefits. There are no presumptive disability payments for SSDI applicants.

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